We launch this series with a question: What is an ethnographic case? As ethnography is a process and practice of authorship, this question produces another: What can it be made to be?
This series explores what cases can generate, and our reasons for resisting or embracing them as modes of analysis. There is a rich and variable history to “thinking in cases” (Forrester 1996). The expository medical case, attentive to the unusual and particular, has long been used as a tool for both diagnosis and instruction. The psychoanalytic case is built from fragments of remembered details with therapeutic objectives. The legal case establishes a precedent, while the criminal case comes to the detective as a mystery to be solved. The ethnographic case may be all of these things at once: instructing, dis/proving, establishing, evoking. It may achieve different ends altogether.
We make a case for our field and our fieldsites through the use of ethnographic cases. Often told in the form of a story, the case can be an illustrative representation. It can also be an exception that draws attention to a rule. It can bring into exquisite detail a micro that is situated, like the tiniest of matryoshka dolls, within a macro. At other times it destabilizes these nested hierarchies, showing that what is big is (also) small, or that significant power resides in that which may be very hard to see. The ethnographic case can interrupt the networked connections of any cybernetic system by attending not to a whole (and not even to its capillary endpoints) but to the details of a situation that is at once expansive and immediate.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.